Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Yesterday Roberta and I went to hear a concert given at the Queen Anne Christian Church. A coworker had two extra tickets which he shared with us. Ingrid Matthews played a violin made by Hendrik Jacobs of Amsterdam, Holland, in 1703, and was periodically accompanied by John Lenti who played a theorbo built by Klaus Jacobsen of London, England, in 1985, based on a model by built by Matteo Sellas of Venice, Italy, in 1640. They performed music of the baroque era. This included a Sonata in D minor for violin and continuo by Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, a Partita in A minor for unaccompanied violin by Johan Paul von Westhoff, a Fantasia in B-flat major by Georg Philipp Telemann, a Passacaglia in G minor for unaccompanied violin by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, an Aria from Rinaldo by George Frideric Handel, a Sonata in A minor for unaccompanied violin by Johann Sebastian Bach and a Sonata in D major for violin and continuo by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer.
The intricacy of Ingrid Matthew’s playing was nothing less than stupefying. How is it possible to remember so many nuances, so many rapid passages and throbbing vibratos? At one point the violin seemed to be producing two separate sounds simultaneously.
I was greatly amused by Ingrid’s black sequined blouse. It flashed and scintillated while she played and seemed to provide a visual accompaniment to her playing.
I wish I could describe what she played. But I don’t have the vocabulary or knowledge. I’ve never played an instrument. I still don’t know what an octave is. Many people have explained it to me. I’ve looked it up in music books and Wikipedia. But the concept still eludes me. And that’s just an octave. I wouldn’t know an arpeggio if I tripped over one, or the difference between a major and a minor. I’ve seen musicians twist pegs and pluck and strum and cock their ear and twist the pegs and pluck and strum again and again until the tone sounded correct to them. Nothing sounded different to me. They clearly heard something that I did not.
Which is why I’ve never been invited to play for the Rolling Stones or entertain my quiet moments with a song and a little piano playing. I can do none of these things. It’s frustrating. Because I love music.
What I did hear during Ingrid Matthew’s performance were patterns of sound that were pleasing to the ear, intriguing in their complexity and flair, but something far more than that, something less obvious, a phenomenon so fine and transcendent it seemed miraculous that anyone could produce it without levitating. No doubt that’s why musicians always seem different when they’re playing music. They seem transported. Entranced.
My chosen instrument is language. Words. I sense a keen music inherent in language. But I can’t even describe that. I don’t have the words available to tell you what words do when they deliver the goods, crash out of the tyranny of convention to achieve something new, something incandescent and boundless. Something akin to music.



Steven Fama said...

An especially lovely final paragraph here! Its suggestion of words delivering the goods I'm reminded a bit of Wallace Stevens' lines from "Variations on a Summer Day" --

Words add to the senses. The words for the dazzle / Of mica, the dithering of grass, / The Arachne integument of dead trees, / Are the eye grown larger, more intense.

And the suggestion of words achieving "something new" reminds me a bit of W.S. Graham's declaration in a January 1944 letter:

I believe [that] each . . . poem [is] an addition to the world, not a distortion or mathematic of known digits of what we have already. After each poem there should be such a apparent addition to the world that it will be as obvious as a new over-4000ft mountain added to the Grampians.

[I had to look up "Grampians"!]

Thanks much John!

John Olson said...

What great quotes. Thank you, Steve.